Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk have busied themselves recently with Prophets of Rage, their timely and politically charged new project with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. But in the early 2000s, the three RATM members formed another successful supergroup, Audioslave, with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Though Audioslave officially disbanded in 2007, they reunited last January for Prophets of Rage’s Anti-Inaugural Ball; it was Audioslave’s first live performance in 12 years. Four short months later, Cornell was found dead, at age 52. And this Friday, as Prophets of Rage played the Voodoo festival in New Orleans, Morello, Tim, and Wilk paid tribute to their fallen former bandmate.
“We lost a very good friend and musical comrade in Chris Cornell. Please give him an enormous Louisiana ovation,” said Morello. “We loved him very much. We’re going to play this next song in his memory. If you know the words, sing along, and if you don’t, say a prayer for peace.”
Morello and company then performed a somber instrumental rendition of the Audioslave’s “Like a Stone,” letting the audience take over, choirlike, for Cornell’s iconic vocals during an emotional mass singalong. Clearly, most of the people gathered at the Wisner stage for the Prophets’ set knew every single word of the 2002 hit power ballad.
The majority of this incendiary set, however, consisted of PE, RATM, and Cypress Hill classics, as well as equally fast and furious songs from Prophets of Rage’s self-titled debut album — like “Hail to the Thief,” dedicated to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Their raging performance climaxed with a very different singalong of sorts, as B-Real declared, “Dangerous times call for dangerous songs; let’s unite with one of the most dangerous.”
The group then tore into a Trump-namechecking update of RATM’s “Killing in the Name,” with fans of all ages, even little kids sitting atop their parents’ shoulders, unison-chanting the angry, expletive-laden chorus. (B-Real then amusingly quipped, “One last thing: Legalize it!” before he exited the stage, ending the group’s set on a still political but much more lighthearted note.)
Prophets of Rage weren’t the only artists making a strong statement at Voodoo on Friday, although some had a kinder, gentler way of going about it. Headliner Kendrick Lamar united the masses with his anthem “Alright,” and Andrew McMahon took a moment during his set to rally the crowd with a positive message of his own.
“What we get to do in these spaces, when we celebrate together, despite our differences, and despite how f***ed up the world is maybe on the other side of those festival gates, I think this counts more than any of us know. So, this started as a gag, but now it feels a little bit more important,” McMahon proclaimed, unfurling a rainbow parachute as he jumped into the audience to sing “Synesthesia” before dramatically draping himself in it. “What better place than a festival, than a rock ‘n’ roll show, to put our troubles on the other side of those gates and dance together?”
The dancing continued in earnest at the main stage for the triumphantly reunited arty electropunks and perennial festival favorites LCD Soundsystem, whose American Dream is shaping up to be one of the top 10 albums of 2017. “Remember, guys, if you’re dancing and there’s no women around, you’re probably dancing wrong. You’re too aggressive. Be nice,” frontman James Murphy cautioned the crowd — an appropriate tip for this #metoo age.
LCD’s other social statements came in the form of the simple word “RESIST!” blasted across video screens during “Movement” and printed on band member Nancy Whang’s keyboard; however, “Someone Great,” one of the most poignant modern songs about loss and the grieving process, was a moment as tender and tear-jerking as Prophets of Rage’s wordless Cornell homage. “Dance Yrself Clean” and a revelatory, reverent cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” kept LCD’s party from getting overtly political.
Speaking of covers, the dream of the ’90s was alive at Voodoo earlier in the day, when Philly singer-songwriter and former Eastern Conference Champions frontman Mondo Cozmo cranked out a faithful remake of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” and L.A. garage rockers Bleached tore through Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings” during their raw set in the Toyota Music Den.
The latter performance was possibly a nod to Dave Grohl, whose Foo Fighters were to headline Voodoo on Saturday. Yahoo’s live stream of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience at New Orleans’s City Park continues Saturday with the Foos, the Black Angels, an encore presentation of Prophets of Rage, and more.